The many virtues of Katherine of Aragon

On the night between 15-16th December 1485, Catalina de Aragón was born in Alcalá KatherineofAragonde Henares in Spain. She would of course in time become more known as Katherine of Aragon, princess of Wales and eventually Queen of England, as we all know ironically not married to the same man while being the princess as when she became queen.

For some reason, there is a tendency to bring up the tragic parts of Katherine´s life when her name is mentioned, she lived in misery between the death of her first husband prince Arthur and the marriage to her second husband, Arthur´s younger brother Henry VIII. She lost a heartbreaking number of children and she was eventually cast aside when Henry in a combination of successional panic and desire for Anne Boleyn decided he wanted the marriage annulled.

But there was more to Kathrine of Aragon than just the victim she often is portrayed as, born as the youngest surviving child of “Los Reyes Catholicos”, Ferdinand and Isabella – whose actions in defeating the Moors, the Spanish inquisition and role in the conquest of the Americas one can say a lot about but this is not the place – she had a mother who was a Queen in her on right, and who herself had taken part in battle.

No doubt she raised a strong daughter in whose corner she would be until she, Isabella, died. Through Isabella Katherine herself had a claim to the English throne as she just as Henry (and Arthur) was a descendant of John of Gaunt, but unlike them not through the Beaufort line which had been barred from inheriting the crown by Henry IV (the legitimacy of that decision has been questioned). She received a thorough education in arithmetic, canon and civil law, classical literature, genealogy and heraldry, history, philosophy, religion, and theology by her tutor Alessandro Geraldini, as well as languages. Apart from the obvious Spanish she also spoke French and Greek, as well as mastering Latin. No doubt her own education played a part when she years later would insist that her own daughter Mary receive the same education as if she had been a prince in line for the throne (which she in reality was).

Her promotion of learning was praised by the scholar Desiderius Erasmus who in a letter 1518 mentions Henry´s court as more of an academy than a court, but also describes Katherine as astonishingly well read, far beyond what would be surprising in a woman, and [she is] as admirable for piety as she is for learning”.

Katherine was also the patron not only of Erasmus, but of the Spanish scholar Juan Luis Vives who dedicated two of his books to the queen, De Institutione Feminae Christianae (The Education of a Christian Woman) as well as De Ratione Studii Puerilis (The Plan of Study for Children), both written in 1523 while he was tutoring princess Mary.

But let´s go back slightly in time, and re-connect to the fact that Katherine was the daughter of a female ruler, Isabella of Castile more than once proved her ability as a monarch, it may not be surprising that Katherine herself proved to be a very competent governor of the realm and captain-general of English army while Henry campaigned on the continent against the French, fighting the relatively minor Battle of Spurs.

Back home, on the other hand his wife won a devastating victory over the invading Scottish army at the battle of Flodden. I won´t go as far as to say that it´s a fact that has been ignored, but it´s certainly far too often over-shadowed by the image of the miserable Katherine.

Maybe I haven´t shared something you didn´t already know, but I think that as her 530th birthday is upon us, Katherine of Aragon should be remembered for her knowledge and strengths instead of her failures and misery instead.

 

Sources

The correspondence of Erasmus – R.A.B Mynors and D.F.S Thomson

“Catherine of Aragon.” Female Biography; or Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women of all Ages and Countries

projectcontinua.org/catherine-of-aragon/

The wives of Henry VIII – Antonia Fraser

The wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir

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Wedding Day

Something that shouldn´t be forgotten about this day is that while Thomas Cromwell lost his life, Henry HowardCatherine02celebrated.

Maybe no exactly the fact that Cromwell was irrevocably gone, but definitely that for some people, life went on, just as he had danced when the news of the death of Katherine of Aragon had reached him, just as he was betrothed to Jane Seymour the day after the execution of Anne Boleyn.

On this particular day he married Katherine Howard, his “rose without a thorn”, the young woman who had grown up under the apparently lax supervision of her father´s stepmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, an upbringing that would one day be held against her.

Just as two of her predecessors, Anne and Jane, she had started her life at court as a lady-in-waiting to the previous queen.

I won´t go into here what would happen, that will have to wait for a later post. But from this day, 1540, the name of the English queen was Katherine Howard.

 

Sources: The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir

 

Marriage undone

The marriage between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves was never a happy union. Already before the wedding itself took Anne_of_Cleves,_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Youngerplace, Henry aired his misgivings, stating that she did not in her looks correspond to the apparently flattering painting Hans Holbein had painted before the marriage negotiations took place.

It may very well be that their relationship got off on the wrong foot to begin with, when Henry in the tradition of courtly love showed up in disguise that Rochester where she was lodging on her way from Dover to London. Henry had obviously not kept track on the physical change he himself had undergone over the recent years, and when a big man, both in height and girth came over to Anne, attempting to kiss her, she did not react in a good way.

From then on, Henry stated that he was no longer interested in the marriage and put pressure on Thomas Cromwell that he should find a way to get out of the agreement, something which proved impossible as it would have aggravated the Germans.

This however opened up for the enemies of Cromwell to turn on him and air their discontent, and the Anne of Cleves business would be at least the spark that started the process which in the end led to the, on Henry´s part later much regretted, downfall of Cromwell.

Recent x-rays have revealed a longer nose under the top layer of paint. Now at St. John's College Oxford

Recent x-rays have revealed a longer nose under the top layer of paint.
Now at St. John’s College Oxford

The marriage between Henry and Anne was never consummated, according to him due to an unpleasant body odour on Anne´s part as well as her sagging breast to mention but a few of his complaints. Maybe it´s not too farfetched to speculate that there was maybe other problems which Henry took the opportunity to conceal by pointing out his wife´s unattractive features; if he indeed at this point had diabetes, which isn´t unlikely, it may have been that he also had difficulties to “perform”.

It seems that Anne didn´t quite know what to expect in the marital bed, as she told the Countess of Rutland what a kind husband Henry was, kissing her every evening before going to sleep and every morning before leaving her. The Countess pointed out to her that a bit more than that would be required to achieve the much wanted spare to the throne. This didn´t much matter though, because on June 24th 1540, less than six months after the wedding, Anne was informed that she should leave the court and two weeks later that the king was reconsidering the marriage. When Anne was approached about an annulment she agreed, and this went through on July 9th 1540.

Anne of Cleves received a most generous settlement which included Anne Boleyn´s presumed childhood home, Hever Castle and Richmond Palace. She also built a deep friendship with Henry, who referred to her as his most beloved sister. Anne stayed in England for the remainder of her life, but never remarried. That Henry did, however, only weeks after his marriage to Anne had been annulled, this time to Katherine Howard.

Sources:

The six wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir

Anne of Cleves : Henry VIII’s discarded bride – Elizabeth Norton

The Coronation of Anne Boleyn

Today, June 1, 1533, the last queen to be crowned separated from her husband was coronated at WestminsterAnneboleyn2 Abbey.
The queen in question, due to the year and the place, was of course Anne Boleyn. Another thing that separated Anne´s coronation from that of other queens was that she reputedly was crowned with the original crown of St. Edward, but as there exist several theories about this crown – that it on one hand was among the crown jewels lost by king John and on other hand that it was locked up in the royal treasury of Westminster all along and therefore used by Anne.

As I´m not in a position to prove or disprove either way, I´ll be content by stating that she may have been crowned with the crown of St. Edward. In the event of the latter, it has been suggested that the reason for this particular honour was that she was not only pregnant, but also expected to be carrying a son.
In any event, the medieval crown was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War, and the current St Edward´s crown was made in 1661.

Westminster-hallThe day previous to the coronation, Anne had taken part in a procession through London where she shaded by a canopy of cloth of gold, carried by the Barons of Cinque Ports, rode on a litter of white cloth of gold rested of two palfreys which in their turn were decorated in white damask reaching all the way to the ground. Anne Boleyn herself were wearing white with a golden coronet on her head. The public who witnessed the procession was said to be less than enthusiastic.
On the actual day of the coronation, Whit Sunday 1533, she wore crimson and purple coronation robes trimmed with fur. Once again under a canopy of cloth of gold, Anne walked from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey.
Followed by a train of noble women and men as well as bishops, abbots and yeomen of the Kings Guards, Anne walked along a red carpet which reached all the way to the altar of Westminster Abbey, where she after arrival in the abbey sat on enthroned on a raised platform.

After the ceremony, during which Cranmer anointed her and put the crown on her head. When the coronationSchatzkammer_Residenz_Muenchen_Krone_Heinrich_II_1270 itself was over, it was followed by a lavish banquet in Westminster Hall which lasted for hours. Seated alone at the centre of the top table, where she ate three out of 28 plates.
The coronation festivities went on for days with hunting, tournaments, dancing and banquets as Anne embarked on her 1 000 days as the queen of England.
But on this very day, even if not for the first time, the Nun of Kent – Elizabeth Barton – publically prophesised the doom for the King and his new Queen.

 

It should be pointed out that the crown in the image is NOT the crown of St Edward. It is however, unlike the crown from 1661, a medieval crown, and may look more like the one Anne Boleyn possibly wore than the now existing crown of St Edward.

Sources:

The Drama of Coronation: Medieval Ceremony in Early Modern England – Alice Hunt

Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey – Arthur Penryhn Stanley

The six wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir

The wives of Henry VIII – Antonia Frasier

 

She who has been the Queen of England on Earth……

….will today become a Queen in heaven

It is said that Anne Boleyn to the very last hour expected her husband, Henry VIII to pardon her for the crimes she anne-boleynmost likely never committed, and to which she most certainly never pleaded guilty. But that pardon never came, and today she was beheaded by a French executioner, brought to England as a concession from Henry to his wife, to let her be beheaded by means of a sword rather than an axe.

She had been tried and found guilty of adultery, incest and high treason on the 15th, crimes that merited a punishment by being hanged, drawn and quartered for men and burning alive for women. None of the condemned had to face these gruesome endings, and on this day Anne found herself on her knees in front of a French swordsman.
On the very last day of her life, Anne is reported to have been of good spirit, maybe because that was the only alternative that seemed acceptable to her. As a parent, one can´t help but think that her thoughts must have gone to her small girl Elizabeth, wondering what would become of her.

Shortly before dawn she had sent for the constable of the Tower, William Kingston, so he would her mass with her, and while he was with her, she twice swore on her eternal soul that she had never been unfaithful to her husband the King. Kinston would later write;
“This morning she sent for me, that I might be with her at such time as she received the good Lord, to the intent I should hear her speak as touching her innocency alway to be clear. And in the writing of this she sent for me, and at my coming she said, ‘Mr. Kingston, I hear I shall not die afore noon, and I am very sorry therefore, for I thought to be dead by this time and past my pain.’ I told her it should be no pain, it was so little. And then she said, ‘I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck,’ and then put her hands about it, laughing heartily. I have seen many men and also women executed, and that they have been in great sorrow, and to my knowledge this lady has much joy in death. Sir, her almoner is continually with her, and had been since two o’clock after midnight”

anne-boleyn-in-the-tower-edouard-cibotIn spite of the “good countenance” that was reported, of the “devilish spirit” the author of the Spanish Chronicle claimed she had demonstrated, I can´t rid myself of the impression that she was afraid. After all, in spite of the fact that the evidence against her was most likely concocted, it had come to this, and she wanted it to be over with. She wished that her life had been ended at the beginning of the day, not wait, not until noon.

There is a poem that has been attributed to Anne Boleyn, and is said to have been written by her during her last days in the Tower. There are no conclusive evidence that this is the case, and some also claim it to have been written by her brother George, Lord Rocheford with whom she shared her faith;

O DEATH, rock me asleep,
Bring me to quiet rest,
Let pass my weary guiltless ghost
Out of my careful breast.
Toll on, thou passing bell;
Ring out my doleful knell;
Let thy sound my death tell.
Death doth draw nigh;
There is no remedy.

My pains who can express?
Alas, they are so strong;
My dolour will not suffer strength
My life for to prolong.
Toll on, thou passing bell;
Ring out my doleful knell;
Let thy sound my death tell.
Death doth draw nigh;
There is no remedy.

Alone in prison strong
I wait my destiny.
Woe worth this cruel hap that I
Should taste this misery!
Toll on, thou passing bell;
Ring out my doleful knell;
Let thy sound my death tell.
Death doth draw nigh;
There is no remedy.

Farewell, my pleasures past,
Welcome, my present pain!
I feel my torments so increase
That life cannot remain.
Cease now, thou passing bell;
Rung is my doleful knell;
For the sound my death doth tell.
Death doth draw nigh;
There is no remedy.

Anne Boleyn was brought out from her quarters in the Queen´s House by two gentlewomen as well as the constableTower_of_London_scaffold Kingston. She was dressed in a red petticoat and a loose, dark grey gown of damask trimmed in fur and a mantle of ermine. According to the historian Eric Ives she was not executed on the site where the memorial is now located, but on a scaffold erected on the north side of the White Tower. She climbed the scaffold from which she held a short speech;

“Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul”.

Anne´s ermine mantle was removed and she was blindfolded. In the audience in front of her, one would have been able to find Thomas Cromwell, in some theories the man guilty of having orchestrated her dramatic downfall, Henry VIII:s illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy and Charles Brandon.

Anne Boleyn died by a single stroke by the swordsman and was buried in an unmarked grave in the chapel St. Peter ad Vincula. Her remains is said to have been identified during renovations of the chapel in 1876 and a resting place is now marked. Some believe how ever that the remains under the plaque is those of her sister-in-law Jane Rocheford and that St Peter ad VinculaAnne in her turn rests under the plaque bearing Jane´s name.
The title for this post is taken from a statement attributed to Bishop Cranmer on the day of Anne´s execution, when he is said to have been found crying.

Sources:
Thomas Cranmer – Diarmaid MacCulloch
The Lady in the Tower – the fall of Anne Boleyn – Alison Weir
The life and death of Anne Boleyn – Eric Ives
Henry VIII and his court – Neville Williams

“To the King from the Lady in the Tower”

 

A letter may, or may not – its authenticity have been contested in some quarters – have been sent letter from Anne Boleynfrom Anne Boleyn on this day while she was imprisoned in the Tower, not yet knowing that she was awaiting her death.
She had 13 days left to live, and obviously thought there was a way to move the King. The headline is most likely added by Thomas Cromwell, who may have felt like the winner at this point but who would in only four years from “now” fall from grace himself.
“Misspellings” and other writings that we may not be used to see should be attributed to the author of the letter, possibly Anne Boleyn herself. It has been suggested that it´s not in Anne Boleyn´s own handwriting and may in that case have been written by a scribe or by the Lieutenant of the Tower himself, Kingston.
The letter was found among Thomas Cromwell´s papers after his execution, which may be an indication that it never reached the King. Maybe she´s in there, persistent, defying and finally begging, not for herself, but for the men accused together with her.

1491_Henry_VIII“To the King from the Lady in the Tower”

“Sir, your Grace’s displeasure, and my Imprisonment are Things so strange unto me, as what to Write, or what to Excuse, I am altogether ignorant; whereas you sent unto me (willing me to confess a Truth, and so obtain your Favour) by such a one, whom you know to be my ancient and professed Enemy; I no sooner received the Message by him, than I rightly conceived your Meaning; and if, as you say, confessing Truth indeed may procure my safety, I shall with all Willingness and Duty perform your Command.

But let not your Grace ever imagine that Anneboleyn2your poor Wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a Fault, where not so much as Thought thereof proceeded. And to speak a truth, never Prince had Wife more Loyal in all Duty, and in all true Affection, than you have found in Anne Boleyn, with which Name and Place could willingly have contented my self, as if God, and your Grace’s Pleasure had been so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forge my self in my Exaltation, or received Queenship, but that I always looked for such an Alteration as now I find; for the ground of my preferment being on no surer Foundation than your Grace’s Fancy, the least Alteration, I knew, was fit and sufficient to draw that Fancy to some other subject.
You have chosen me, from a low Estate, to be your Queen and Companion, far beyond my Desert or Desire. If then you found me worthy of such Honour, Good your Grace, let not any light Fancy, or bad Counsel of mine Enemies, withdraw your Princely Favour from me; neither let that Stain, that unworthy Stain of a Disloyal Heart towards your good Grace, ever cast so foul a Blot on your most Dutiful Wife, and the Infant Princess your Daughter:

the trial of anne boleynTry me, good King, but let me have a Lawful Trial, and let not my sworn Enemies sit as my Accusers and Judges; yes, let me receive an open Trial, for my Truth shall fear no open shame; then shall you see, either mine Innocency cleared, your Suspicion and Conscience satisfied, the Ignominy and Slander of the World stopped, or my Guilt openly declared. So that whatsoever God or you may determine of me, your Grace may be freed from an open Censure; and mine Offence being so lawfully proved, your Grace is at liberty, both before God and Man, not only to execute worthy Punishment on me as an unlawful Wife, but to follow your Affection already settled on that party, for whose sake I am now as I am, whose Name I could some good while since have pointed unto: Your Grace being not ignorant of my Suspicion therein.

But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my Death, but an Infamous Slander must bring you the enjoying of your desired Happiness; then I desire of God, that he will pardon your great Sin therein, and likewise mine Enemies, the Instruments thereof; that he will not call you to a strict Account for your unprincely and cruel usage of me, at his General Judgement-Seat, where both you and my self must shortly appear, and in whose Judgement, I doubt not, (whatsover the World may think of me) mine Innocence shall be openly known, and sufficiently cleared.

My last and only Request shall be, That my self may only bear the Burthen of your Grace’s Displeasure, and that it may not touch the Innocent Souls of those poor Gentlemen, who (as I understand) are likewise in strait Imprisonment for my sake. If ever I have found favour in your Sight; if ever the Name of Anne Boleyn hath been pleasing to your Ears, then let me obtain this Request; and I will so leave to trouble your Grace any further, with mine earnest Prayers to the Trinity to have your Grace in his good keeping, and to direct you in all your Actions.

Your most Loyal and ever Faithful Wife, Anne Bullen

From my doleful Prison the Tower, this 6th of May.

Sources: British Library

The Lady in the Tower – Alison Weir

 

”Look out for my daughter, should anything happen to me”

 

Anneboleyn2The words may not have come out that way, but they do give the essence of what Anne Boleyn asked of her confessor, Matthew Parker, when she told him of her fears one of the last days of April 1536.
According to Alison Weir in her book “The Lady in the Tower – The fall of Anne Boleyn, Anne´s plea made a profound impression on Mark Parker; many years later, having been made Elizabeth I:s first Archbishop of Canterbury, he dedicated himself to her service and also told her most trusted secretary William Cecil that “he would fain serve his sovereign lady in more respects than his allegiance, since he cannot forget what words her Grace´s mother said to him not six days before her apprehension”
Exactly what those words were, we will unfortunately never know.

No doubt she had felt for a great part of the spring that something was going on. On April 23rd, Henry had given the Order of the Garter to Thomas Cromwell instead of her brother. The investigation and the questioning of her ladies in waiting that must have been included in that investigation can hardly have passed her by completely.
1491_Henry_VIIIMaybe there were whispers when she passed by, strange glances that she must have wondered what they were about.

Yesterday, May 1st, or Mayday, she may have come to understand that her situation was grave. During the Mayday joust at Greenwich Palace, Henry all of a sudden got up and walked away. Most likely he didn´t look back, and she would never see him again.
Unbeknown to Anne, the court musician Mark Smeaton had been arrested and interrogated during the night, an interrogation that lasted no less than four hours and had Mark Smeaton confess to having
On this departure from the joust, Henry brought Henry Norris with him and interrogated him all the way back to York Place.

Officially, Henry was all this time planning to take Anne with him to Calais on May 4th, and she was expecting Lady Lisle, the wife of Henry´s maternal uncle, Lady Lisle, to receive her. This obviously wasn´t going to happen. By April 29th, the Privy Council had already been informed about the impending judicial process against the Queen.
But all of late winter and spring spies had been doing their work, including infiltrating the Queen´s household. Someone doing much to establish Anne´s guilt was of course her sister in-law, Lady Rochford who apparently had no problem sending her own husband, George Boleyn, to his death in the process. Without batting an eye? We´ll probably never know, but I won´t hesitate to say that this is not my favourite woman in history.

And on this day 1536 Anne Boleyn, Queen of England – “The Moost Happi” – was arrested. It started, for Anne, by her anne-boleyn-in-the-tower-edouard-cibotbeing ordered to appear at the Privy Council, where she was faced by a Royal Commission, where she was accused of having committed adultery with three men, Sir Henry Norris and Mark Smeaton.
Anne of course denied this, but her words carried little weight and after having been informed that she was under arrest, Anne Boleyn was brought to the Tower.
Popular legend has it that she arrived there through Traitor´s Gate, but that was not the case, she arrived at the private entrance of Court Gate at the Byward Tower where she was met by the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir William Kingston. She asked him, maybe expressing a deep fear, if she was to be taken to the dungeon, but he kindly informed her that she was to stay the Queen´s Apartments, the very same apartments she had stayed in awaiting her coronation only three years earlier.

When Anne arrived at the Tower, Henry Norris, Mark Smeaton and her brother George, Viscount Rochford, was already there, having been arrested the previous day and, in the case of George, earlier that very same morning.

 

 

Sources:

The Lady in the Tower – The Fall of Anne Boleyn – Alison Weir

The Anne Boleyn Files – Claire Ridgway

Diplomatic Disptaches – Eustace Chapuys

The last painting in this post is a rather romantic notion of Anne in the Tower, painted by the French historical painter Édouard Cibet in 1835